Engaging the Gospel – Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord (Year C): Gospel – Luke 24:46-53

“Jesus’ final apparition [to the disciples] ends with the irreversible entry of His humanity into divine glory,” His Ascension into heaven, where He is “exalted at the Father’s right hand” (Catechism paragraphs 659-660).

“Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom” (664) and reveals that “Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history” (668).

To extend the reign of His kingdom on earth, He instructs His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, a command handed down the ages, even to our own day.

In one respect, “the Church is catholic [literally, ‘universal’] because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race” (831).

As the Vatican II document Lumen gentium states,

All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: He made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all His children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one (quoted in 831).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I express solidarity with fellow Christians around the world?

Prayer of Petition

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2629-33:

Petition is a form of prayer in which we ask the Lord for what we need.

First and foremost is our need for forgiveness: because our relationship with God is the “one thing necessary,” we want to preserve it, protect it, and nurture it above all else. Each and every sin frays this relationship, and mortal sin ruptures it (which is why we seek an encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal and restore it).

When we realize that we have hurt God, and others, through our faults and failings, we are moved to ask for His mercy. Sometimes we can fall into the bad habit of taking sin lightly and treating forgiveness as a mere formality. While God is eager to forgive, He wants us to repent truly, and recognize sin for the evil that it is.

So important is it to ask for forgiveness, that the Catechism describes it as a “prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.”

Another vital need for which we pray is the coming of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us. This petition involves not only beseeching the Lord to bring salvation history to its culmination, but also asking that we may receive His help in striving toward, and cooperating with, the Kingdom’s coming.

Because “the seed and beginning of the Kingdom” on earth is the Church, our petition for the Kingdom also involves the building up, the flourishing, of the Church here in the world.

Of course, we have many other needs in our daily lives, and we are encouraged to bring these too – even the small ones – before the Lord in our prayers of petition: “Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in His Name.”

This is especially helpful for family prayer time, when children may be invited to offer their own petitions.

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 4:26-34

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 4:26-34

Drawing upon agricultural imagery for His parables, Jesus describes the growth of the Kingdom of God.

On the larger level, this refers to the Church “because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time.”

But at the same time, this refers to each and every one of us: our lives are to mirror the mustard seed.

“The kingdom has come in the person of Christ and grows mysteriously in the hearts of those incorporated into Him” (Catechism 865).

Benedict XVI explores what the “Kingdom of God” means in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1. Both the Greek word for kingdom (basileia), and the underlying Hebrew (malkut), are “action” words, referring to the dynamic quality of reigning.

“‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of His lordship” (pp. 55-56). Jesus is “the Kingdom in person,” for “He is God’s presence” (p. 49).

But He comes in “lowliness and hiddeness.” He “rules in a divine way, without worldly power, rules through the love that reaches to the end, to the Cross” (p. 61). He advances His Kingdom by attracting us through His love. If we accept God’s lordship, His Kingdom is within us, and “it grows and radiates outward from that inner space” (p. 50).

Question for reflection: What signs do I see of my own spiritual growth over time?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – John 12:20-33

Jesus emphasizes the centrality of the Cross, in His saving mission and in the lives of everyone who would follow him.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation” (Catechism paragraph 607). Through the “great Paschal mystery – His death on the Cross and His Resurrection – He would accomplish the coming of His kingdom. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself’” (542).

“This gathering is the Church, on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom” (541) — “born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation” (766).

Jesus calls us to follow His example of total self-giving, affirming that only by dying to ourselves can we enter eternal life. In so doing, the Lord offers each one of us “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery” (618).

We experience this reality most profoundly in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. In Baptism, the descent into the water signifies “the descent into the tomb” (628), our “burial into Christ’s death,” from which we rise up “by resurrection with Him, as a new creature” (1214).

Having “become members of Christ” (1213), we are called to “become God’s fellow workers and co-workers for His kingdom” (307). We offer ourselves in union with the Lord’s sacrifice:

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value.

paragraph 1368.

By embracing our own crosses, we advance in the spiritual life and grow closer to Jesus: “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (2015).

Question for reflection: How has dying to myself helped me to follow Jesus more closely?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

Jesus exercises His power to rebuke and cast out unclean spirits

As the Catechism explains, “evil is not an abstraction” (paragraph 2851). There are malevolent spiritual beings, fallen angels who oppose God, at work in the world.

By their own free choice, “these created spirits…radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign” (392), and “they try to associate man in their revolt against God” (414).

The word “devil” comes from the Greek dia-bolos, referring to the fact that he “‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (2851).

One of the great documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, reiterates that this spiritual warfare involves each one of us:

The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield, man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

— quoted in Catechism paragraph 409.

“Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus,” his power is limited, and he “cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign” (395). Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (394), and victory was achieved “once and for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave Himself up to death to give us His life” (2853).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord helped me with a spiritual struggle?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:14-20

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:14-20

Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and His calling of the apostles, are profoundly interrelated:

The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the ‘little flock’ of those whom Jesus came to gather around Him, the flock whose shepherd He is. They form Jesus’ true family.

–Catechism paragraph 764.

Every human being is called into this gathering (542).

First, “there is the choice of the Twelve, with Peter as their head.” Because the number of apostles represents the twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus is signifying that His gathering, the Church, is the new Israel (765).

Indeed, around the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were praying for just such a renewed gathering by God.

Benedict XVI explains that they longed for a qahal, the Old Testament word for a divinely-called assembly of the people: “a qahal coming from God himself, a new gathering and foundation of the people, increasingly became the center of Jewish hope.”

Qahal was rendered into Greek as ekklesia – the New Testament word for “Church.” By using this technical term to describe herself, the Church declares that she is the hoped-for qahal.

“This petition is granted in us…the chosen final gathering of God’s people” through Christ (Called to Communion, p. 31).

Question for reflection: How has listening to God’s call changed me?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

The wedding feast in this parable symbolizes the kingdom of heaven, and at the same time, is evocative of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

“The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets,” who expressed “God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love” (Catechism paragraphs 796, 1611).

This “nuptial covenant between God and His people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant” in Christ (1612).

As St. John Paul II observes, “It is not difficult to see in this wedding feast a reference to the Eucharist: the sacrament of the new and eternal covenant, the sacrament of the marriage of Christ and humanity in the Church” (September 18, 1991).

We are all called personally; no one is excluded from God’s universal invitation. But Jesus reveals that we in turn must respond appropriately. We too must enter with a “wedding garment,” as we learn from the unprepared guest in the parable.

JP II explains:

…in Israel’s world, on the occasion of great banquets, the clothes to be worn were made available to the guests in the banquet hall. This fact makes the meaning of that detail in Jesus’ parable even clearer: the responsibility not only of the person who rejects the invitation, but also of those who claim to attend without fulfilling the necessary conditions for being worthy of the banquet.

This is the case of those who maintain and profess that they are followers of Christ and members of the Church, without obtaining the ‘wedding garment’ of grace…

We must embrace this “garment” offered to us by God:

The parable emphasizes the responsibility that every guest has, whatever his or her origin, regarding the ‘yes’ which must be given to the Lord Who calls, and regarding the acceptance of His law, the total response to the demands of the Christian vocation…

December 11, 1991.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced God’s invitation to draw near to Him?